By Amanda Hatfield
MELBOURNE -- The creativity and hard work of one Melbourne student has provided a unique opportunity for individuals with special needs throughout the community.
In October 2012, homeschooled high school senior Logan Morris, 18, founded the Dance Abilities team at Melbourne's Dance Mania All-Stars, as part of her senior project.
"This has been a team that Coach Parsons has wanted to do for a while," Logan said. "I was at a point where I didn't have quite as much on my plate and wanted to start the team."
When Logan approached Dana Parsons, owner and director of Dance Mania All-Stars with the idea, the two did not hesitate to get started.
"I knew Logan had the maturity, responsibility, work ethic and, most importantly, passion, to make this extremely successful and special," Coach Parsons said.
The Dance Abilities team is comprised of dancers with a variety of special needs -- physical, emotional and learning -- ages 5 and older.
In order to make her senior project a great success, Logan raised money to purchase the team's costumes, received sponsorships from competition companies to cover costs of registration fees and scheduled all of the required training.
Logan also received overwhelming support from seven fellow dancers, who make up the "Best Buddies."
This group of Dance Mania senior dancers volunteer their time to the Dance Abilities dancers, serving as role models and choreographers.
These "Best Buddies" went through extensive training before working with the Dance Abilities team.
"All 'Buddies' and coaches have received training and certification in First Aid, CPR and AED, Seizure and Diversity and People First Language," Coach Parsons said.
Since the group was established last October, Dance Abilities graced the stages of local and regional dance competitions.
"On Jan. 21, Dance Abilities performed at a regional competition in Sanford," Coach Parsons said. "After their performance, I was approached by the competition director who told me, 'More people need to see this and recognize their abilities.'"
Dance Mania's Dance Abilities team has also touched and inspired crowds at local events, like Dance for a Cure, held at Florida Tech on Jan. 13.
On Feb. 2, the Dance Abilities team performed at the biggest national dance team competition: Universal Dance Association's National Dance Team Championship.
Held at Disney's Wide World of Sports, it is an incredible honor for any team to be invited, Coach Parsons said.
Dance Abilities wowed spectators at Universal Dance Association's National Dance Team Championship with its jazz routine.
"It's a mix of three songs, all with a 'Believe' theme," Logan said.
The Dance Abilities team also received an extremely special honor.
"Competition judges have extended an invitation to Dance Abilities to come perform at Nationals every year for free!" Coach Parsons said.
Since the creation of Dance Abilities, Coach Parsons has seen many changes in all of her dancers.
"The Dance Abilities members are getting physical, social and intellectual stimulation," Coach Parsons said. "We have seen so much growth in them in such a short period of time."
The "Best Buddies" have also experienced individual growth of their own.
"We're much more appreciative of our time at practice," Logan said. "Plus, we have a much better outlook on life."
Logan, who hopes to study nursing when she begins college in the fall, adores her Dance Abilities team.
"The 'Best Buddies' and I talk to them like any other team we would talk to and treat them the same way," Logan said. "We don't necessarily give them special treatment because they need to be treated like everyone else."
The equality amongst this tight group of dancers has shown Coach Parsons the deep success of the Dance Abilities team.
"The Dance Abilities team is truly a blessing to us all," she said.
Founded in 1999, Dance Mania All-Stars intends to keep this inspiring dance team for life.
"We are educating the public with the idea that everyone can dance," Coach Parsons said.
Dance Mania All-Stars Dance Ability Team is open year-round. Those interested are encouraged to call (321) 254-9915 to try a class.
Dancers who wish to compete need to sign up by the registration deadline. Deadlines will be posted in mid-April on www.dancemaniaallstars.org.
For more information about Dance Mania All-Stars and Dance Abilities, visit www.dancemaniaallstars.org, email Logan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the studio at (321) 254-9915.
Dance Mania All-Stars is located at 4200 Dow Road Suite A, Melbourne.